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'One for the Money' is One for Discard Pile

Terrible casting turns this lovable novel into a laughable disaster.

The debut novel of Janet Evanovich’s popular “Stephanie Plum” mystery series is titled “One for the Money,” now a major motion picture with the ubiquitous Katherine Heigl in the title role.  But we’ll get to that in a second.

“One for the Money” was followed by, you guessed it, “Two for the Dough,” then “Three to Get Deadly,” “Four to Score,” “High Five,” and so on and so forth. At this point, Evanovich is up to “Explosive Eighteen.” I stopped reading after “To the Nines.” Or was it “Hard Eight?” Who knows? They all blend together.

As you can infer from the titles alone, these tales are far from serious.

The series stars Plum, a plucky lingerie salesgirl turned bond recovery agent (aka “bounty hunter”) who uses her Jersey street smarts, air of desperation and a ton of luck to bring in the bad guys for her boss, the aptly named cousin Vinnie. Naturally, she gets a little help from her friends, who include a delightfully colorful hooker named Lula, Trenton hot cop Joe Morelli (who – fun note – deflowered a 16-year-old Stephanie on the floor of a bakery), and a smoldering, real-life action hero named Ranger – as in lone.

Throw in some wacky Italian/Hungarian relatives and a dose of self-deprecating wit, and you’ve got the recipe for Evanovich’s best-selling books.

You do not, however, have a guaranteed blockbuster.

The film, which has been panned in as many languages as the novels have been published, lacks the zany charm found in the cleverly penned pages of Evanovich’s tomes.

I blame casting. From the opening monologue, Heigl’s attempt at a Jersey (pronounced “Joizy”) accent is laughable and awkward. That she attempts to play a down-and-out schlub is, I guess, a fun stretch for her, but from the audience, she comes off as disingenuous. A character that so vividly endeared in print falls to pieces in her incapable hands.

Tragically, the miscast masquerade does not end there. Enter: Steph’s supposed bad boy crush, Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara). Morelli, aka “The Italian Stallion,” exudes charisma at Evanovich’s hands, making all ladies who read about him dream that he’d come breaking down their doors instead.

In this film, that dream dies a sad, unsexy death as the Irish O'Mara – looking not unlike a 40-year-old, weather-worn sailor – yells and screams and clumps about until all pretense of chemistry between him and Heigl are banished. Even when he calls Steph “cupcake,” it feels like his heart is not in it.

Daniel Sunjata as Ranger is the only one who makes sense, but not even his insane hotness can save the day.

Perhaps those who are unfamiliar with the story, who won’t know how severely it’s been butchered, will enjoy the mildly exciting explosions, Nancy Drew detective work and slice of New Jersey vice it offers, but I doubt it.

Unless, of course, you think bad Katherine Heigl movies are hilarious, in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kinda way. In which case I say, grab some popcorn, sit in the back row and let the snarking begin!

Catch it at:

* The Regal Cinema at 2:30 p.m., 5:20 p.m., 8 p.m., 10:20 p.m.

*  in South Whitehall at ‎‎2:50 p.m., ‎5:10‎ p.m. and ‎8 p.m.‎

* The  at the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley at ‎‎12‎ p.m., 4:15 p.m., ‎7:15 p.m., 9:30 p.m‎.

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